Local headlines illustrate our character

Published 12:44 am Sunday, December 28, 2014

In the last few hours before a New Year dawns on Thursday, most of us reflect on the big events from the past 12 months. We celebrate the happy moments and regret the sad ones.

The Democrat began its 150th year of existence in October. We’ll celebrate our official 150th birthday in 10 months when the next October rolls around.

Thinking about all that history can be a bit mindboggling. With each passing year the newspaper reports and creates a permanent record of local happenings, from the silly and mundane to the life-changing ones.

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It’s always interesting for our news staff to look through the past year’s worth of news and boil down 365 days of editions into the biggest news stories of the year.

This year a few large events stood out as being momentous marks in the community’s history or landscape — Natchez Regional Medical Center being sold out of bankruptcy, marking an end to the longtime county hospital; the closure of J.C. Penney, a fixture at the Natchez Mall.

Those made big headlines, for sure, but it’s the small effects of news that have more long-lasting meaning.

Looking through the list of the most-read articles on the newspaper’s website can be depressing — fatal car wrecks, deadly shootings, horrible accidents and even a fight at a kindergarten graduation.

None of those are particularly pleasant to think about during the holidays. Each untimely death results in years and years of mourning for dozens of family members usually.

Sadly, news of deaths is among our highest read news items, particularly when obituaries are considered. Obituaries are easily the most read pieces on our newspaper website — approximately five times more than any other type of news.

All of that is fairly normal stuff, though.

Most interesting to me are the bits of news that, by their popularity, seem to illustrate Natchez’s unique character.

The single highest-read article of the year came when a local high school student went missing. That’s impressive, because it illustrates just how interested our community is in helping one another when something bad happens. The article was shared and viewed thousands of times over various social media platforms as parents, friends and complete strangers attempted to get the description of the young man’s vehicle out in the public. Eventually the teen returned home safely, the answer to many prayers.

Another example of Natchez’s inherent goodness is seen in the statistics on another top story — the fire at downtown retailer Darby’s Gifts and Accessories. A fire is scary anywhere, anytime. A fire downtown is terrifying. A fire for a retailer just before Christmas is about as nightmarish as one can imagine.

For owners Dennis and Darby Short, however, two things happened that made it far less than a worst-case scenario. First, the Natchez Fire Department — a group of true professionals — knocked the fire down quickly, limiting the damage to the building. Second, as the smoke billowed from the building, Natchez showed its true stripes — volunteers ran into the building to help the Shorts move merchandise out of harm’s way.

The volunteer effort almost certainly saved tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from destruction. But beyond that, for me at least, it confirmed my long-held belief that Natchez is filled with great people who will go out of their way to help you if you find yourself in need — whether a child is missing, a building is on fire or its just a flat tire, Natchez cares.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.